Ever so close to the "Mario On The Road To Nowhere"
Brace yourself for confusion: First there was Mario Brothers in the
arcades. Then came Super Mario Brothers on the original Nintendo Entertainment
System. SMB was followed by 2 other NES sequels. Then came Super Mario
World on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Then came Mario Kart
for the SNES, a Mario racing game. Then came Wacky Wheels, the uncannily
similar animal-themed PC rip off of Mario Kart. Then came Mario
64 on the Nintendo 64. Then came Mario
Kart 64. Now comes Ubi Soft’s S.C.A.R.S., which is the only real
“spiritual sequel” to Wacky Wheels, making it similar to Mario Kart
64. You all got that?
is what it is (if you don’t know what it is, read the above paragraph. If you
still don’t get it, eat a bag of toasted chestnuts and try again), what we have
here is a highly cartoon-ish, arcade style racing game. It features 9 diverse
off road tracks, 9 animal and insect themed cars, the ability to jump, and non-lethal
There are 5 racing modes. Grand Prix (championship), Custom Circuit, Challenge,
Time Attack, and Split Screen 2 player (sadly enough that’s the only multiplayer).
In Grand Prix you progress through 4 “cups” (memories of Mario Kart 64 come
flooding back like the Mississippi in 1995). Each one of these “cups” gets progressively
more difficult and gives you access to more of S.C.A.R.S’ 9 tracks, since
you only start with 2. You gain points for your finishing position in every
race, and if you were the most violent or had the best lap. In order to proceed
to the next track you must have a cumulative minimum score. Of course, your
point score also determines if you manage to get to the podium. In another similarity
to Mario Kart, your starting position in each race is linked to your
position in the championship. Custom Circuit is a racing season in which you
pick which tracks you want and at which time of day (night racing is particularly
In Challenge mode you go head to head with one of the 4 cars that you cannot
choose at the beginning. Should you win a race against one of these superior
cars, you gain access to it. Time Attack… well… I think that all of you
critically huddled, squirming, squeaking, squirrel-like game playing masses
out there know what Time Attack is.
Split Screen is the only multiplayer mode in the entire game, where two people
may compete on the same PC, crowded at the keyboard. There is no modem, LAN
or internet play! (Shock! Horror!). Although it is cool to have split
screen, a feature that most racing games lack these days, in 1999 it seems a
little late to be making games that do not have any kind of internet multiplayer.
The graphics in S.C.A.R.S. are a mixed bag. The racing environments
are colorful, cartoon-ish, and refreshingly light and fun. The cars are somewhat
bland though, with low polygon counts and design that does little to mimic the
animal that they are supposedly representing. The weapons, wheels , and most
of the scenery are bitmaps. The wheels, for instance, use the old Wing Commander
1 and 2 principal of simulating 3D by having a lot of different sprites for
different camera angles. There aren’t quite enough frames of 2D animation though,
and the sprites in the game give a choppy felling to a game that runs at 60
FPS on a P133 with a first generation voodoo card.
The sound is fairly
adequate. The music on the other hand is easily some of the best yet heard in
a racing game. S.C.A.R.S. without music is a throwaway. With the music
on, the creative and energetic tunes add a much needed feel of manic and high
velocity fun. The best music is for the mountain track which practically tells
the story of a 50’s sci-fi alien movie.
Mario was a kids game, no question about it. Sure, us adults could
get into it, but it was really meant for the young children whose parents had
mystically bottomless pockets. S.C.A.R.S. is much in the same vein, and
that is were almost all of its faults come from.
First of all, in an attempt to make S.C.A.R.S. more accessible to younger
gamers, the racing speed is far below average on any difficulty setting below
the highest. This makes the game uninteresting and boring unless you play on
the highest difficulty level, which is really only about as fast as the Normal
difficulty setting on competing racing games like Need
For Speed 3 and DethKarz.
Second of all, while there are some tasty and creative weapons in the game,
none of them do anything but slow the other cars down. You could come up right
behind a lion-mobile with a charged bullet weapon, let fly, smack the sucker
right up the tailpipe, and all that results is a nice looking explosion, a flip,
and a minor slowdown. There is no death. Also, S.C.A.R.S. unfortunately
doesn’t go all the way with its premise of ripping off Mario Kart and
therefore lacks a battle mode, which was the most compelling component of Mario
Kart to begin with.
On top of that, S.C.A.R.S. treats almost all inclines like walls, meaning
that you can’t ride up the side of a slanted wall to take the hairpin turn without
a powerslide slowdown. Also, hitting a wall makes the most annoying sound I’ve
ever heard in a racing game.
There is also the issue of not being able to remap joystick or gamepad buttons
to the user’s preference. You can change the keyboard controls though.
However, if you set the difficulty to full (a requirement of Ubisoft’s POD
also, as S.C.A.R.S. uses an updated POD engine), turn the music
volume to full, and are willing to be somewhat less than serious in your gaming,
you might just find yourself enamored with S.C.A.R.S. for a while. It
certainly fills a nice gap in the crowded racing market, one that can be appreciated
by gamers of all ages.
S.C.A.R.S. is a game for those of us PC gamers who do not also have
a Nintendo 64 (probably because we all couldn’t justify the expense of a $150
gaming system like we can with a $2000 gaming system), but still secretly wish
to pop in the old Mario Kart 64 cartridge and get down and funky with
some light and fluffy gamin’ goodness. It’s not really worth it, but just remember: